Stalled, but still looking


Rochester, from the roof of the Genessee Brew House

So it isn’t Niagara Falls, but it’s our falls.

After a few months of either scrambling to put together and then take down the solo show in Chelsea, as well as working feverishly on a book proposal with Peter Georgescu, I’ve got a little down time between writing sessions. I haven’t painted in weeks, and my batteries are recharged, which is good, because I have a two-artist show at Oxford Gallery in April, and I need to do more than a dozen new paintings for it, but at the moment I can’t. Soon though.

I did a little yard work this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, after a brief thunder shower, I sat under our cherry tree that drops one or two butterscotch-colored leaves every day, as it always does starting in late July, getting a head start on autumn mid-way through the summer. It’s been especially cool for about a week here in the eye of the polar vortex, but aside from a little too much rain for a few days, I’m loving the weather. I think our cherry, which serves as a huge beach umbrella over our brick patio, has been fooled, at night, into believing it’s October already.

It’s been a summer of fulfillment in our yard, bushes and trees and plants I put in back in 2004 have matured, fully grown or at least as large as I’d like them to be. Everything in the garden and lawn seems developed now, after all these years of tending, feeding, pruning. In the spring, I raised the beds around the patio and wheelbarrowed half a yard of topsoil into the boxes I built with pressure-treated lumber and anodized door hinges, so that the lengths will form a half-circle around the back of the bed. As a result, the dahlias are nearly seven feet tall already in some places, because of the new soil and the excellent drainage, and everything else is thriving in these intermittent showers we’re getting, along with plenty of sun: rudbeckia, phlox, begonias, campanula, shasta daisies, nasturtiums and a few petunias here and there. Nothing exotic or labor intensive, but I’m looking at all of this growth now and thinking how much I’d like to paint a few of those flowers for the show next year. Over ten years, I’ve learned  how to guard all this growth behind our house. I used a daily spray of stylet oil to subdue the white leaf mold that was starting to thrive in the phlox after heavy rains, and I’ve been plucking the tomato leaves that have developed the blight of dark spots they get every year now, as well as spraying them with an organic fungicide sample that came with something else I ordered online recently. Miraculously, the new fungicide seems to have inhibited all the mildew and mold. The leaf spots have slowed down, but aren’t going away. The combination of treatments eliminated the powdery coating on the peonies and the phlox–if left unchecked it would have quickly covered the entire plant and killed the foliage. The flowers would come back next year, but they would have turned into a cluster of horticultural zombies this summer.

This year, finally, I’ve also figured out how to protect the bird feeders from both house sparrows and squirrels. I found a few sites on the Web that showed how people had used lengths of monofilament, fishing line basically, dangling strands of it down around all sides of the feeder. It wards off the house sparrows, but not chipping sparrows, goldfinches, chicadees, nuthatches or house finches. House sparrows are not the brightest of birds. It’s been years of having to try different feeders and never finding anything that defends against the sparrow gang, so now we get a steady traffic of better birds. Meanwhile I also finally discovered how to defeat the squirrels. The feeders hang on seven-foot metal hooks in the middle of our back yard, and until now squirrels have been able to leap high enough to get over the plastic disks we’d used as baffles, but now I’ve got three-foot long lengths of stovepipe, basically, attached just beneath the feeders and the squirrels can’t cling to it. It’s a Rube Goldberg contraption, and it looks silly, but it works. The feeders are too high for them to jump up and grab from the ground. So we’ve had a great year for birds. We even had a robin singing on top of our house every day, most of the day, for nearly two months, and then a quartet of screeching blue jays moved in, and the robin quietly headed a few doors down for a less crowded roof. It’s a continuous game to assert dominance in the air and trees over our yard: even a hummingbird was chasing a chickadee around relentlessly, dive bombing him, no matter where he perched, but the game eventually got old. The chickadees come and go unmolested now.

So there’s a kind of order and abundance around our home that hasn’t been in evidence until this year. The summer has been calm, but with a hint of suspense in the way heat and distant thunder mix it up while patches of blue sky appear between magnificent white cumulus clouds overhead. The air has been quiet for days, a breeze high in the sweet gum and the pear tree but down in the garden not even enough movement to stir the wind chime. Nothing toils nor spins ’round here, other than one human resident who works seven days a week. All the other creatures eat when they feel like it and seem to pretty much fool around the rest of the time. Things are happy to just be whatever they are, accomplishing nothing, and that’s more than enough for someone who enjoys watching nothing much happen. The crickets haven’t yet started their incessant chirp, which is when August starts to feel lifeless and abandoned, but that won’t bother me. We’ll be heading to California so Nancy can attend our daughter’s baby shower and maybe I can get in a round of golf with my son and son-in-law.

Ed and Nancy Weber, friends for twenty years, picked us up yesterday afternoon and we headed down to the High Falls District to have a hamburger on the roof of the Genessee Brew House. Ed parked on the west side of the river, near Kodak, and we walked across the Pont De Rennes bridge. A lot of streaked water, a typical ochre color, was coming over the falls, full of silt from the rains we’ve been having, but with long white sprays trailing down too. The base of the gorge is a long way below the walking bridge, which was designed by the man who designed the Williamsburg Bridge. Even at that height, the last time Ed had been there he’d spotted a beaver on a little island directly under his feet. On the roof of the brewery we watched lightning off to the east and the south, but felt only a couple drops of rain. It’s easy to forget that Rochester is built around a waterfall, and when you look at our little skyline from that roof, it’s a mixed bag, newer pastel colored buildings, abandoned-looking brick structures, and a beat-up old freight train creeping along tracks just over the falls, as well as the modern towers, including the Xerox building. Kodak is off where you don’t notice it, on the other side of the river, which is probably for the best. On the way back to the car, our friends spotted some new acquaintances they’d made on their last visit to the restaurant, so we walked over to where three people were sitting on one of the bridge’s benches, aiming their cameras and binoculars at the peregrine falcons on top of a communications tower and a red brick building beside the falls. The family of falcons used to make their home at the peak of Kodak tower but, along with most shareholders, they’ve found other places for their nest eggs and now they reside in the Art Deco wings on top of our Times Square building. We introduced ourselves to the others, and my new friend Don offered me his binoculars.

“Just be sure to put the strap around your neck,” he said.

“Yeah, I understand,” I said, and I did. They were perfectly focused already to see the falcons, which were still fairly small in the glass, perched at the top of the building, quietly looking at the river. The falcons were doing pretty much what we  were doing: just paying attention. If you’re a painter, it’s what you do.

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